Celebrating post-war football's local legends

Herbie Smith (centre) with son Murray (right) and grandson Max (left).

Herbie Smith (centre) with son Murray (right) and grandson Max (left). - Credit: Roy Scott

Who is the best post-war locally born football player? We're asking readers to nominate their favourites as part of a campaign to celebrate the roll call of soccer talent witnessed over the past 75 years.

The first nomination came from Roy Scott, who helped with the start-up of Sunday soccer locally in 1958/59, now sponsored by the Herts Advertiser, who chose former St Albans City player Herbie Smith as his number one.

Herbie was born in Sleapshyde in 1939 but then found himself living in a boys' home as his family was too large to cope. The home was in King Harry Lane, and he was there for 12 years before being moved to a similar home in Lemsford Road.

Roy said: "I recall when I was 12 years old, I arranged a match between my friends living in The Camp area and Herbie's team, mainly from the boys' home. The match was played in Clarence Park itself and we laid coats down for goal posts with endless space and no pitch markings."

While still in the home, Herbie went to Townsend School and soon established himself as a very fast and tricky football player.

When he left school he secured an apprenticeship with the gas company at the bottom of Holywell Hill, and started playing for St Albans City FC when he was 18. He played in front of crowds of 3-4,000, playing on both left and right wings.

Roy continued: "In those days the top end of the amateur game was rife with players receiving what was call back-handers or boot money or secret envelop money. Nowadays it's all above board with the introduction of semi-professionalism. Herbie reckons he was very naive in those days and the big London signings got a lot more than he did."

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Nevertheless, Herbie was able to save £2,000 to buy two adjoining houses in Wheathampstead with no mortgages. He went on to play for City for nine years, scoring 70 goals. One of his star performances was scoring a hat trick for Saints against Hemel Hempstead in the FA Cup.

"Fourteen years ago his son Murray persuaded Herbie to join his family in Exeter. As you would expect, football is in the family's blood. Murray had won many trophies in St Albans and Hatfield and is currently coach and chairman to a Devon team and referees on Saturdays.

"Murray would love to be able to see film of his dad to see how good he was, as he never gets tired of people telling him."

Herbie's grandson Max is showing every sign of emulating him, and at 14 years of age plays for Exeter FC Juniors.

When asked who he rated highest in his day, Herbie mentioned Brian and Roger Figg from Park Street (Roger played for England amateurs) and John Mitchell, who played for Fulham, scored both goals in the FA Cup semi-final, and went on to play with Bobby Moore in an FA Cup final at Wembley.

Herbie returned to St Albans for the 25th and 50th anniversaries of the Herts Advertiser Sunday League (HASL), and features in the league's new 60-year anniversary publication, a 224-page brochure which will be available in June.

Roy has spoken to other people who were playing in the 1950s and 1960s and are still actively involved in the St Albans soccer scene today, in a bid to find out who their number one players are.

Brian Hubball, HASL press officer, also nominated Herbie Smith: "It was his ability with both feet, all with speed and control."

Bob Murphy, Sporting Club FC and Albert RN FC, picked Dennis Gibbs: "My favourite player though would be Denis, father of Watford's Nigel. He was the most honest, tough, brave and reliable player I have ever met. I loved him, mainly because while we were chucking pints down our necks after the game he would have a glass of sherry!"

John Lister from St Peter's FC, selected John Mitchell: "I could name six or seven players but John would come out on top."

And finally, Peter Fisher, HASL football secretary, also chose Herbie Smith: "He was a local lad who never forgot his roots."

To nominate your favourite footballing local legend from the post-war era, email hertsad@archant.co.uk with up to 350 words as to why you think they are worthy of recognition, and any photos you might have to illustrate.